These are the questions we ask once we’ve decided that this bizarre whirlpool of a creative existence that is music is what we want to do with our lives – where do I begin, what’s my sound, how do I reach a wider audience; how do I start growing my fan base?
You know what your sound is by now, hopefully – you know what you play, what you write, what you want to say. In theory, let’s skip to the part where you’ve recorded some tracks (to a supremely high quality if possible – if you really want to turn heads). So now, all you need is for someone other than your Dad and your introverted co-worker to become a fan; to enjoy what you create, and to follow what you do. What are the best ways to reach a wider audience with your music? We’ll keep this as concise as possible, because time is fleeting – as are our attention spans these days. Here’s the low down – our 10 top tips for growing your fan base.
1. Set Up Social Media Accounts & Post Fresh Content Regularly
Seems like a no-brainer these days, but don’t consider anything too cool or too uncool for you. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Websites – get them all. Spend a day building one of each, preferably with the same name for all of them so you’re easier to find. Add photos, info, tracks, videos – free streaming options and any download links if available. Start communicating, even when your audience is just one. Get things started, ask people to share or comment if they like what you’re doing. Listen to your existing fans and work out what they respond well to. Don’t be afraid to fail. Some things you post will fall flat on their arse, it doesn’t matter. Learn from it. Post again, and again, something new, something else. Stay busy, and always respond to your existing fans. The bigger you get, the harder this is, but they are the reason you’re able to keep this music malarkey up. Appreciate them.
2. Book Gigs & Play Your Heart Out
This one’s for the introverted musicians in particular – I know it’s easier to hide at home and make recordings, and with the world being part Earth and part internet now, you can build a pretty good following this way; without ever stepping foot outside of your house. But, if you’re serious about growing your fan base, those fans are going to want to see you performing live at some point, and if you haven’t been in training – keeping up appearances, experiencing the live circuits, learning and growing – you’ll find yourself totally overwhelmed. Book gigs, at least one or two each week, prepare your set, and play every show as if you were playing the 02 to 1000 dedicated fans. Be a part of the process, invite people to your shows, go to other shows – network with other bands and artists. Build something in your local area and then look further afield and continue to build.
3. Make Videos
Videos are the food of the social media masses these days. We’re far more likely to press play on a visual clip than on an unheard-of song. Make videos – whether high quality and edited, or totally raw and acoustic; make them, be real, be yourself, perform to the best of your abilities, and share those videos as often as possible. Even if you’re not as good as you’d like to be – which we rarely are in the moment – document that process. Next week’s video will be even better. Keep looking ahead. Get things done. Don’t be afraid of failure. You have to love all of this. At the very worst, you can look back at these videos when you’re older and see how far you’ve come or how things have changed.
4. Interact With Your Audience
The way social media works is that sometimes your posts will be visible to people who aren’t yet your fans. This is a good thing. Offer content that invites them to join the conversation. Run polls, ask questions, host a live video session – be approachable and inclusive. Let people know you’re busy and you’re serious about music – get their attention and keep it. That’s the game. If they aren’t interested, they won’t stay, so don’t worry about bearing your soul to non-fans. Not everyone will be your fan, the important thing is that you cherish and appreciate those who are.
5. Create Merch
Music fans love an exclusive – they love a secret crew hoody or T-shirt that their friends don’t have, they love being a part of something fresh and underground. Hats, T’s, jumpers, scarves, beer mats, stickers, key rings, pipes, socks – whatever it is, and you can get creative as hell with this, get your logo plastered on it and get selling things. You can find merch makers on Ebay or Amazon or look for local businesses who will collaborate with you. Networking is key – talk to people, problem solve. If you continuously grow your team, your fan base will follow. Merch is a great way to get your marketing out and wandering the streets. It’s also a great way to make people feel involved in something exciting and new. And it’s a great money maker in between gigs and album releases.
6. Hack into Existing Audiences
This is not quite as under-the-table as it sounds. This means look to those who are already bigger than you are, and speak to their audiences directly. This could be in the form of cover songs, something that has worked wonders for numerous artists so far over on YouTube and Instagram and Facebook. It could be in the form of joining the conversations in the comments – not spamming your links: I repeat – do not spam the comments sections with your links. Just be involved, be honest, be a fan and let people know that you also make music. ‘Fans’ is just a special word for acquaintances, a support network – or ‘friends’ as they’re more commonly thought of. If someone else already does what you do and has a huge fan base, go find those people on social media. Let them know who you are, ask them about themselves, and tell them what you do. As stated earlier, not everyone will be your fan, but the more people you reach – the more of those fitting connections you will stumble upon.
Building a career as a musician requires more than just the music these days. Your career is a business and you need to treat it as such. This doesn’t mean sacrificing the real art of it, please don’t do that – be interesting, be true to your creative desires. It just means that once the product or the piece of art is ready, you need to know how to market it to the greatest potential audience. Facebook advertising is one way of doing this. If you’re going to advertise in this way, remember that you’re one of many ads the world will scroll past that day – be sure to stand out, maybe get some tips or advice as to how to market your image and your brand in the best way, and if you don’t get results, try something different next time. Social media advertising is as affordable as ever right now – take advantage of that. You can target specific music fans – right down to age and location and favourite foods if you really want to. Be visible.
8. Push Yourself – Wander Outside Of Your Comfort Zone
This applies to all areas of your life as a musician. Keep practicing, keep learning new skills and ‘tricks’. Try a weird cover song, write something out of the ordinary, do something once a week or even just once a month that will stand out to your audience. Maybe you go busking somewhere hectic and film it, maybe you set up a gig in a cow field, maybe you collaborate with someone from the open mic night you went to last week. Keep it fresh, and don’t get complacent. Our attention spans are short, complacency is uninteresting. Even when we love a band to death, we expect them to surprise us and keep us on our toes, otherwise we start looking elsewhere for our entertainment and escapism. Be careful when wandering in the realms of weirdness though – don’t force or fake it, people will see that from a mile away. Be the kind of weird that intrigues you as an artist. Be the artist you’d buy tickets to go and see.
9. Get Your Music in Blogs & Playlists
Make your name and your brand and your sound appear anywhere and everywhere. This is all part of that ‘work’ ethic that is so essential in building a career as a musician. Contact blogs, buy reviews, get interviews done, let playlist makers know about your latest release – share your track with people who seem to listen to similar music. Spotify playlists are huge these days, slowly but surely catching up to radio no less – if you can get your track in a playlist alongside some big names, you’ll reach more fans with ease. The way to get into those playlists is to firstly make great music, and secondly – ask. If you don’t ask, you probably will not get. Ask, and then ask your fans to ask – particularly if it’s radio-play you’re chasing. Spotify playlists are vast and varied though, so you’re bound to find some relevant ones and some creators who will be happy to help if they like your sound. Make great music, be a great person, have a great outlook.
10. Be Consistent.
All of these things are but passing moments to be filled with work and passion and possibility. If you stop doing them, the door will start to close – opening elsewhere for those who kept up with the workload and the appearances and continued to appeal to their audience. Talent alone won’t cut it these days – you have to be prepared to work; often for five or even ten years, maybe longer in some cases. There’s no end point you should blindly chase – you have to love the journey, the process. Great opportunities and experiences will come along the way – growing greater and more memorable, requiring more of you. Keep working on your craft, building your skills, networking, saying yes to opportunities – keep being an active part of the music world. This is an ever-spinning orb of life – if you stop, everything carries on without you. Be consistent, be real, and most importantly – be happy in what you do. Good luck, and enjoy!